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(en) Britain, Boycott workfare workfare London demonstrations - The view from Oxford Circus

Date Mon, 22 Oct 2012 11:20:48 +0200


It has to be said today went well. An anarchist contingent several hundred strong gathered at Harmsworth for the big march into central London, with more red and black flags than ever and plans to totally ignore Hyde Park's selection of crusty bureaucrats telling us that we (ie. they) are "being heard" to ask nicely for slightly less austerity, please? Oh go on, pretty please? ---- Despite a large escort of police and a helicopter assigned specially for us (we had a chopper above us from about 11am to 5pm) we weren't deemed a major target for the most part, and made it to Trafalgar Square with little incident and a lot of happy folks taking papers, leaflets etc. At the square we made a sudden breakaway to head up and join Boycott Workfare as part of our ongoing campaign to bring down a piece of legislation which sees companies and charities using free labour from the unemployed to undercut low-paid workers' conditions.

Between 50 and 100 people came along with us as we headed to a number of Workfare participants starting with McDonalds, where we blocked off the doors with chants such as "Nooooooo wages? Oooooooutrageous!" (congratulations to the main man on the megaphone by the way, that was some epic chant leading).

This was followed by The Salvation Army, where they seemed vaguely entertained, then on to another McDonalds, where they took the bizarre decision to lock their own customers in for a while. It's a bold way to increase custom, for sure. M&S, just down the road, was next and treated to a rousing rendition of "You say Workfare, we say unfair!"

Primark (below) was fifth on the list, largely shutting down the road nearby as a combination of protesters, badly-parked police vans and shoppers totally filled the street, forcing drivers to listen to explanations of precisely how Workfare is stripping claimants of their dignity while putting hundreds out of work.

We finished up with a third McDonalds, by which time reports were already circulating that the mad, bad Solidarity Federation had been taking part in "anti-social behaviour" (15.55) - mind you, the Guardian seemed to be accusing UK Uncut of terrorism today, so as libels go ours was at least pretty mild.

What was notable today is that our numbers are up on last time, despite a serious drop-off of numbers for the TUC rally as a whole. So if today says anything it's that the number of people who are prepared to go on an A-B anti-cuts march so they can listen to Ed Miliband say "oh, well we'd do the same, fnar fnar" is shrinking. The number of people who are prepared to directly confront businesses and force change through direct action is on the rise.

----Solidarity Federation --- The View from Embankment of TUC demonstrations London ----

On the day some of us met up at Charing Cross station, in every corner you could see union branches and anti-cuts groups from up and down the country meeting up in the concourse.

We arrived at the Embankment to a sea of banner and as wemarched we met both people we knew from round London and people from all across the UK. We met Welsh comrades who'd come over night or on the 5am coach which made us feel pretty lazy.

The mood was positive as we trudged down to Embankment, when we reached Westminister we ducked out to have a look up and down the march. It was quite uplifting seeing banners from so many different workplaces and areas, inspiring to see so may of us out when sometimes the union branch or the local group can feel very isolated day to day. Being honest the only smudge on that was catching a depressing sight of the Wandsworth POA banner, a quick reminder not to place too much faith in the unity of the day.

Turn out was significantly down on last year, and it definitely wasn't as vibrant. However, its important not to be overly dismissive of big marches like this. Sure marching from A to B won't stop a single cut, but to be fair most people on the march know that. Despite the lower turn out I still know friends and family members who went who never do anything 'political', its still a big march that a large section of society can engage with and it still has the feeling of a show of strength, even if it can feel a bit diluted at times.

As with March 26th and indeed, the anti-war demos of nearly a decade ago, the trick is always to dodge the long list of speakers at the end and the tedious repetetive rhetoric the politicians and union leaders offer. We headed down to Oxford Circus to join the rest of the local at the Boycott Workfare protest which went pretty well. Then it was spoons via sam smiths (sadly not as cheap as it used to be). Overall, despite our mixed feelings it was still a good day out in central London, and now its back to the struggle on Monday morning...

------Phil blog ------ What October 20 tells us about the state of the movement ----

http://libcom.org/files/imagecache/article/images/blog/DSC_0339.JPG
Links at: http://libcom.org/blog/what-october-20-tells-us-about-state-movement-21102012

Saturday October 20 saw the TUC's "Future That Works" march and rally. It was the second biggest demonstration so far against austerity, the belated follow-up to the "March for the Alternative" last year. But what was the point? And where do we go from here?

Estimates place the number of marchers in the region of 100,000-250,000. Clearly an awful lot of people but also down on the number who attended last year, as even the TUC itself attests.

The TUC's official line is tried and tested. "We are sending a very strong message that austerity is simply failing," according to outgoing General Secretary Brendan Barber. Unison's Dave Prentis adds that "we are here for the millions of people who don't have a voice." Thus re-affirming that the march amounts to what James Butler calls "three-dimensional lobbying."

For the left of the left, it is this but also a launchpad to the kind of strike action that can add weight to this message. The Socialist Party, as ever the best example of this position, tells us that marchers "came determined to make sure that it was more than a 'parade'."

This demonstration "opened a new phase in the war against austerity, giving a glimpse of a more hardened and militant working class." Mainly because people cheered the trade union movement's "awkward squad" as they called for strike action, including the great totem of the 24 hour general strike, which I've looked at in more depth before.

However, it is telling that they neglect to mention all of those who actually did make the day "more than a parade." Namely, the hundreds who took direct action with Boycott Workfare, shutting down shops and using the increased numbers to cause disruption to profits and the economy. Plus the militant protest by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), blockading Park Lane by chaining their wheelchairs together. Read Solidarity Federation's account here and Johnny Void's here.

The omission is telling because the whole point of the "left of left" position is to play on discontent with the lack of action by the unions, whilst still fulfilling the role of channeling and policing class struggle. Thus "capitulation" can be put down to the right of the movement rather than the structural interests of trade union leaderships, and we can demand something more as long as we will wait for it to come from above and take care to listen to the speeches first.

This tells us a lot about where the workers' movement is in the UK compared to elsewhere. Because there is enough discontent for the TUC to pass a motion considering the "practicalities" of a general strike - and reminding us of same to generate headlines ahead of the march - but not enough for them to leave Ed Miliband and his slower, not as deep cuts off the speakers list. Enough for Len McCluskey of Unite to hold a mock "vote" for a general strike in Hyde Park, but not enough for him to be the least bit embarrassed about praising the Labour leader's appalling Labour Conference speech as a "tour de force."

In other words, the unions and the left that props them up can see the potential for the working class to take matters into our own hands. But the threat is a dark cloud on the horizon rather than a storm at their door at present.

But what of the militants?

Well, the radical workers bloc on the south London feeder march was visible and lively. Lively enough for a Labour Party contingent to drop back and be left behind rather than have to march alongside them. Once it hit the main march, it seemed to grow in size and the atmosphere was charged.

The Boycott Workfare action was also large of its own accord, and once they came together the two blocs of militants were greater than the sum of their parts. By all accounts, half of Oxford Street was shut down by the actions of these groups whilst only hot air came from Hyde Park.

Of course, the economic disruption inflicted on the day won't force an end to austerity or bring down the government. But it wasn't intended to. Rather, it was the continuation of a long running campaign of disruptive action that has been doggedly eroding the government's workfare project. Whilst the TUC has consistently transformed walkouts by millions of workers into passive protest and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the key public sector disputes, action against workfare is yielding win after win.

The October 20 action offered a microcosm of that contradiction. An enormous mobilisation of workers, however lively, trudging towards nothing - and a minority amongst them actually making an impact. That people are recognising this can be seen in the shrinking size of the demonstration itself and the growing proportion who took part in direct action.

Far from being a new phase or making our voices heard, October 20 has merely highlighted the mire that we're in. The appetite for militancy and direct action is growing in many quarters, but by no means fast enough. Meanwhile, the official leadership of the movement may bother its arse to give us a general strike, but it will only do so when it can draw all potency out of the action beforehand.

Militants need to redouble their efforts. Not only in campaigns like that against workfare but industrially, organising amongst rank-and-file workers willing to take action for themselves. Strikes, occupations, blockades and pickets must become the new norm - and inevitably officials must be confronted in the process.

If we do this, then we have a hope of calling the kind of action we need - open ended and building in an uncontrollable wave. If we don't, then even the Labour Party's "slower, fairer" austerity will evaporate into thin air.
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